South Sudan: In Jonglei, David Yau Yau is not the problem
Last week South Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared David Yau Yau (DYY) – a Murle rebel leader from Jonglei State – to be a terrorist after attacks he allegedly perpetrated in Jonglei State. But labeling DYY “˜a terrorist’ does not solve anything as the man is just a symbol of a broader political problem. In post-independence South Sudan the majority of rebel leaders have been Nuer and there have been no, or insignificant, Dinka rebel leaders; the biggest tribal group in South Sudan, occupying both presidential posts to date. Why should they rebel?
Freedom fighter or terrorist
It may be something of a cliché, but the label “˜freedom fighter’ or “˜terrorist’ can inhabit both sides of the same coin. The best example recent in history is Yasser Arafat – chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) who fought for self-determination of the Palestinians. This is not to directly compare Arafat with DYY by any means, but at a much lower scale the motivation of the Murle is the same as the Palestinians, who want their own state within South Sudan. The Murle and DYY are also not the only ones in today’s South Sudan who are campaigning for greater self determination – just take a look at the ongoing low-level Shilluk rebellion against the Dinka in Upper Nile State.
I have no particular sympathy for DYY, I don’t know how many crimes he has committed and few people do. But DYY is not as important as we might at first think – the fight for peace cannot be fought on the battlefield or with SPLA re-enforcement, as the Jonglei Legislative Assembly has suggested. If DYY is neutralized sooner rather than later then new figures will turn up; from the Murle community, from the Nuer, or the Shilluk. Very few Murle people actually subscribe to DYY’s political agenda, if such a thing can be said to exist, but he has become a last resort for community protection among the Murle.
The leadership of South Sudan needs to acknowledge that South Sudan is much more heterogeneous than what was captured by SPLM/A upon independence. Murle, Dinka, Jie and Lou Nuer would previously inter-marry, trade and negotiate local peace deals and grazing areas. They were all more or less without influence in Khartoum and there was barely any presence of state authority in Jonglei. Since independence the latter has changed for some groups, but not for all.
From deep-rooted cleavages to politicisation of conflict
Deep-rooted cleavages have now surfaced after decades of fighting against Khartoum, multiplied by a number of factors. First, the forced disarmament campaign exacerbated the tensions targeting the minority group, the Murle. The campaign killed and injured many of their leaders – the latest known incident being the killings of Murle chiefs in Manyabol, Pibor County, in May this year. Forced disarmament is still being presented by officials as the one solution to the conflicts in Jonglei.
Second, politicians and power holders have capitalized on this low level conflict in order to acquire money, land and natural resources for themselves and their community. Jonglei state is known to be rich with oil, diamonds and gold. An indicator of this politicisation of the conflict is the latest incident in Twic East that left many people dead and injured. The horrendous attacks on civilians can only be condemned. The attack was, however, quickly attributed to David Yau Yau’s rebel group – when in fact there is no proof of a direct linkage. DYY has distanced himself from the attack, though not ruled out that Murle people were behind it. Politicians were not slow to condemn DYY; calling him a war criminal and “˜his’ attack a crime against humanity.
A press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs states:
“This latest massacre is particularly deplorable because it comes on the heels of Government efforts to bring about peace in Jonglei State. As part of this effort, DYY and his thugs were offered amnesty. Instead of responding to peace overtures, DYY chose to scorn this initiative.”
A state with no Rule of Law
Several Nuer rebel leaders were arrested two years ago, held in house arrest, never tried before a court and have now been released without further explanation. This is a state that labels rebel leaders as terrorists, it arrests those rebel leaders arbitrarily, it never puts them before a court, it releases them when the political situation requires it and it pardons opposition leaders without accusing them of anything.
The South Sudan Law Society stated last week:
“…the pardoned persons had been detained without a fair trial for which they were entitled to. Also, their Constitutional rights to be produced before a competent court and to a fair, speedy trial were violated. SSLS is concerned that the rule of law cannot be upheld and human rights respected unless all arrested suspects irrespective of their status in South Sudan are brought to book and accorded a fair trial in the competent courts of South Sudan within a reasonable time for justice to be seen as done as required by law.”
Free at last?
A high ranking person within SPLA said something to me the other day that I will remember for quite some time:
“I feel so much for the people of Darfur, South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Nuba mountains. They are much worse off than any of us here in South Sudan are. Back then, we fought for influence and self-determination, not a separate state as such. Now some of us have gotten our freedom here in South Sudan, why do we then still fight each other?”
The author is an employee of an international organisation in South Sudan. The views in the above are her own and do not represent those of the organisation.